Friday, 14 December 2012

Mondo Sexy and Eroticissimo - Bizarre Cinema Archives

For fans of obscure European cinema and associated culture, the Bizarre Cinema archives series by Glittering Images are pretty much indispensible in my opinion, particularly for the English-language reader.

This is because they’re a source of material that is difficult if not impossible to find elsewhere, be it advertising materials, fotoromanzi and cinemaromanzi, images of obscure soundtrack releases and, above all, translated interview and review fragments.

Their bibliographies are also invariably excellent, albeit generally limited in their usefulness if one is not a reader of English, Italian and French, with access to archival sources of a copyright library level. (One of the good things about where I live, Edinburgh, is that it has one of the UK’s copyright libraries, the National Library of Scotland, and so has a copy of just about everything besides so-called ‘grey literature’. Being able to go there and consult issues of Continental Film Review or Cinema X in a separate reading room is a particularly fond memory; it’s also funny to think of their having complete runs of many UK pornographic magazines, likely including those that are now unacceptable due to having 16- or 17-year-old nude models.)

These two recent Glittering Images volumes, published in 2011 and 2012 respectively and curated by mainstay Stefano Piselli are no different. Mondo Sexy deals with the mondo film in its various incarnations, while Eroticissimo presents sequences from a number of cinemaromanzi (i.e. photo-stories) of European sexploitation films made between 1969 and 1973.

As its title suggests, Mondo Sexy takes a somewhat different approach to the mondo filone than the likes of David Kerekes and David Slaters’s Killing for Culture (a substantially revised third edition of which is due for publication in the new year) and Mark Goodall’s Sweet and Savage.

Whereas those volumes, especially the former, emphasise the death and shockumentary side of the mondo film, as epitomised by the likes of Africa Addio and The Wild Eye, Mondo Sexy focuses more upon the earlier erotic and exotic side of the genre, beginning in the late 1950s and ending in the mid-1960s.

The filmography of Italian sexy mondos is presented chronologically, making it easier to chart the course of the filone over this period. This said, to fully do so the reader will also need to cross-reference with the second and possibly third filmographies. The former of these is of other Italian mondo and mondo-related films, such as Mondo Cane and Cannibal Holocaust respectively. The latter is of non-Italian productions. Some of these, such as Primitive London, are basically sexy mondos in their subject matter and approach, while others, such as Exhibition, illustrate the shift to hardcore that had come to dominate the sex(y) film by the 1970s.

For the general reader -- to the extent that there is such a thing as a general audience for specialist publications like these -- Eroticissimo is perhaps the better option if finances are limited; as followers of Glittering Images will know their books are neither particularly easy to get hold of (I got these from an Italian-based seller on Ebay, and have got some previous volumes from Italian online retailer Bloodbuster), nor particularly cheap.

This is principally because rather than featuring mostly now-forgotten erotic and exotic performers from circa 1959-65, as its counterpart does, Eroticissimo instead features many of the best known and most beautiful starlets of Italian and European cult cinema of a decade or so later, including Rosalba Neri, Edwige Fenech, Janine Reynaud and Sandra Julien.

The films the images of these women and the stories they are part of also showcase the work of some of European trash cinema’s more interesting auteurs, including Jose Larraz (with Whirlpool), Jose Benazeraf (Frustration) and Renato Polselli (Mania).

There are, however, two main criticisms I have of the book. First, Pilselli does not particularly contextualise the fotoromanzi extracts shown. This makes it difficult to know how representative they are. Did the typical fotoromanzi tell the same story as the film it was based upon, or merely offer edited (sexy) highlights in a manner akin to an 8mm version of a feature? Second -- and perhaps more in the way of wishful thinking -- might it be possible for Glittering Images to republish a fotoromanzi or two in their complete form, such that we might then be better able to understand its particular aesthetics in relation to the film and the comic book?

The Vampire, his Kith and Kin

Being yet another possible film season idea for the Edinburgh Film Guild's Friday night slot...

Everyone knows the vampire film, don't they? Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, all down the way (down being the operative term) to Twilight.

With this mini-season we try to fill in some of the gaps: I Vampiri, Riccardo Freda's modern-day, scientific take on Countess Bathory, notable for being the first Italian horror film of the sound era and for preceding Hammer by a couple of years; Zinda Laash, a Pakistani version of the selfsame Hammer Dracula, but in an Islamic rather than a Christian context and with some song and dance numbers; Spanish maverick Jesus Franco's admirable, if perhaps misguided, attempt to faithfully adapt Stoker's novel to the screen on a decidedly limited budget; Count Yorga, Vampire, with its self-deprecating yet deadly title character taking advantage of the apparent  absurdity of the notion that an actual vampire could be at large in contemporary California; Martin, George A. Romero's tale of a young Pittsburgh man who may be a 80-something vampire from the old country, or just mentally disturbed; and the Hong Kong Mr Vampire, a martial arts-horror-comedy combination that showcases Chinese traditions of the living dead, along with the former colony's answer to Peter Cushing, the late great Lam Ching-ying.

  • I Vampiri
  • Zinda Laash/The Living Corpse
  • Count Dracula
  • Count Yorga, Vampire
  • Martin
  • Mr Vampire

Monday, 10 December 2012

Help on sourcing a couple of remarks

There are a couple of remarks by Luigi Cozzi (I think) that I mention in my thesis, which I could remember well enough to paraphrase, but cannot remember their sources.

First, Cozzi remarking that a difference between Bava and Argento's films was that Bava's tended not to play in the first-run circuit (except maybe very briefly) whereas Argento's did.

Second, Cozzi remarking that in Italy producers did not want to know what a film was about, but what films it was like.

Thanks in advance

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Brute

The Brute opens in white-coater mode as a psychiatrist addresses the audience straight to camera, acknowledging his presence within a film and commenting on various theories as to why men abuse women.

Following this it then presents what appears to be a dramatised case-study as Teddy (Julian Glover) arrives at the house he shares with his wife Diane (Sarah Douglas) and proceeds to verbally, emotionally, and physically abuse her. Diane is thereby left with marks that she has to explain away in her job as a model. It is clear, however, that neither her photographer friend Mark (Bruce Robinson, later director of cult favourite Withnail and I) not his parter Carrie (Suzanne Stone) do not believe her story of having been involved in a car accident; besides anything else the vehicle has not been damaged.

After this, however, writer-director Gerry O’Hara gives us something unexpected as the second fourth-wall breaching encounter with the psychiatrist is recontextualised as one of his regular therapy sessions with Diane.

Teddy, unfortunately, refuses to accept that he is the one with the problem, continuing to vacillate between abuse and contrition. He appears apologetic, only to then reveal a branding iron which he attempts to use on her. Diane manages to get hold of the iron and strikes her husband before fleeing.
When Diane returns with the police Teddy denies her allegations. The police do not bother to inquire as to why Teddy has a blanket over his legs, merely accepting his explanation that Diane is neurotic, alcoholic, on medication etc.

Around this point the filmmakers throw us another surprise, as Diane is introduced by Carrie to Maria (Roberta Gibbs), another battered wife, with attention then shifting to Maria and her abusive partner.

While uniformly well-acted, competently directed and intelligently written by O’Hara, The Brute is one of those films whose appeal, as something that the 1970s punter would have paid to go and see at the cinema, for entertainment, as opposed to feminist consciousness raising, is hard to discern. In this it reminded me a bit of the later Hollow Reed, a film in which a gay man struggles for custody of his child against his ex-wife’s new partner, whom he suspects of being abusive.

In relation to this possible failing, however, one of The Brute’s strengths is its refusal to give easy answers, as when Mark initiates a relationship with Diane, which Carrie is fully aware of, or when a friend of Maria’s partner is visibly shocked by his violence towards her but does not know how to respond. Somewhat against this, however, there’s Carrie’s martial arts displays, have been fine if introduced earlier but here coming across as somewhat deus ex machina.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Italian Gothic

Another possible Edinburgh Film Guild season...


The late Maggie Günsberg argued that Italian horror cinema could be divided into two broad periods: Gothic horror from 1956-66 and giallo (i.e. thriller) horror from 1970 onwards. With this mini-season we explore the former period, and the distinctively Italian take on the Gothic by filmmakers such as Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti.

Black Sunday -- the official directorial debut of Mario Bava also introduced the fetish star of Italian Gothic, English actress Barbara Steele, here playing a double role as the satanist vampire and her innocent victim.

The Playgirls and the Vampire -- a troupe of dancers and their entourage take shelter in an old castle for the night, not realising that it houses a vampire and his lookalike descendent, both being played by Walter Brandi, one of the key players in the early Italian Gothic.

The Horrible Secret of Dr Hichcock -- The first of director Riccardo Freda's Hichcock diptych riffs on the Master of Suspense's Rebecca and Vertigo amongst others, with Steele playing the new wife of the titular pioneering anaesthatist and necrophile.

Crypt of the Vampire -- Christopher Lee appeared in several Italian Gothics, including playing vampires at a time when he refused to reprise the role of Count Dracula for Hammer. This adaptation of Le Fanu's Carmilla, however, sees Lee play one of the vampire hunters.

The Long Hair of Death -- After a mother and the elder of her daughters are executed on trumped up charges of witchcraft, the younger daughter, who was spared, takes her revenge. Steele plays both daughters.

Kill Baby Kill -- In turn of the century Europe a doctor is sent to a remote village to investigate a series of mysterious deaths, only to find his scientific certainties collapsing in the face of mounting evidence of the supernatural.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Another potential Edinburgh Film Guild season for next year...

Although most western audiences only became aware of Japanese horror cinema with the release of The Ring, Dark Waters, Audition and so on, the genre has a long history in the country. With this mini-season we showcase six of the best Japanese horror films from the late 1950s through the 1970s.

Jigoku -- Right from the opening credits, projected onto a naked woman's body and accompanied by a John Zorn-esque soundtrack, you know you are in for a trip as a university student falls foul of a demonic figure to find himself plunged into hell, the depiction of which still packs a punch and shows how those rumours of Hammer producing extra-gory versions of their films for the Japanese market arose.

Matango -- Survivors from a shipwreck find themselves on an island populated by mushroom people. The condition turns out to be contagious...

Irezumi -- After being kidnapped, made to work as a geisha, and forcibly tattooed with a large spider, Otsuya seeks bloody revenge upon those who have wronged her. The title Irezumi refers to the traditional Japanese tattooing methods depicted in the film.

Goke Bodysnatcher from Hell -- After their plane crash lands in an isolated area a mixed group of characters discover that there is a body-jumping alien parasite amongst them. Tarantino referenced Goke in Kill Bill Vol 1 as the bride flew to Japan against a blood-red sky.

Horror of Malformed Men -- Suffering from a de facto ban in Japan, this complex and at times avant-garde production based on a story by the pseudonymous Edogawa Rampo -- i.e. the Japanese Edgar Allan Poe -- must be seen to be believed.

House -- A group of school pupils venture into the house of a witch, with bizarre and frequently fatal consequences. At times reminiscent of Dario Argento's Suspiria, but incredibly upping the what-the-fuck factor even higher.

Should Kwaidan/Kaidan be there? Or one of the Toho Dracula films?

US Trash Cinema

Being another possible Edinburgh Film Guild season for next year. As before comments and suggestions welcomed...

As the likes of Eric Schaefer's Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! and David Friedman's A Youth in Babylon show, trash cinema has existed almost as long as Hollywood, exploring subject matter that mainstream filmmakers could or would not exploit, generally around some combination of sex, violence and drugs. With this season we showcase six important example of the genre. 

Reefer Madness -- one of a slew of films conveniently released as the US government moved to ban marijuana in the 1930s, Reefer Madness sees clean-living youths fall under the deadly sway of “the weed with roots in hell” to suffer hysterical and factually inaccurate consequences.

Blood Feast -- Caterer Fuad Ramses is appointed to prepare a 21st birthday feast for Mrs Fremont's daughter Suzette. Ramses proposes an “Egyptian feast” which Mrs Fremont agrees with, not knowing about its unique human ingredients. The original gore film from Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman.

Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill -- Three go-go dancers go on the lam after one kills a boy racer and wind up at a dilapidated farm where a fortune is hidden. Thelma and Louise ain't got nothing on Turu Satana and Hajii...

The Wizard of Gore -- Montag the Magician performs incredible tricks by which members of his audience have fatal wounds inflicted upon them, only to then recover at the conclusion of the performance. The problem is that Montag is not actually curing these wounds, instead only delaying their effects...

Pink Flamingoes -- John Waters' first feature length film sees Divine and David Lochary's characters vying for the title of filthiest person alive. Presented completely uncut, including the chicken sex scene, the man with the talking anus, and Divine eating dog shit.

Double Agent 73 -- When Agent 99 is murdered by the drugs kinpin whose operation he had almost infiltrated Double Agent 73 is called in to continue the investigation. The 73 refers to the real bust size, in inches, of freakshow star “Chesty Morgan”.


I'm in charge of programming films for my local film society, The Edinburgh Film Guild. As part of our programme we have four mini-seasons of six films/screenings each which showcase cult type films. For next year I'm thinking of doing a Blaxploitation mini-season. What do you think of the films I've chosen and which changes would you make? I've deliberately steered clear from Sweet Sweetback, Shaft and Superfly.

BlaxploitationThe term Blaxploitation refers to a type of exploitation cinema that emerged in the early 1970s, with the realisation that African-Americans comprised an increasingly large part of the US film audience that Hollywood had hitherto failed to tap into. Most Blaxploitation films used familiar genres but changed their dynamics by having black rather than white heroes and anti-heroes. In this mini-season we showcase six examples of the form, featuring iconic stars such as Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Pam Grier and Rudy Ray Moore.

-- Based upon the same novel as Get Carter, but transposed to Los Angeles, this hard-hitting revenge tale gives the better known Michael Caine vehicle a run for its money. Bernie Casey stars.

Black Caesar -- Independent auteur Larry Cohen's re-imagining of the 1930s rise-and-fall gangster tale, with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson in the title role as the ambitious Harlem mobster.

Coffy -- Pam Grier plays the titular nurse seeking vengeance upon the drug pushers whose wares were responsible for the death of her sister.

Blacula -- Acclaimed stage actor William Marshall plays the titular vampire, an African prince who had unwisely sought Dracula's help against the slave trade centuries before, and who now finds himself in present-day Los Angeles.

Welcome Home Brother Charles -- Having spend several years in the pen after falling victim to racist cops, the titular protagonist seek revenge. His method and weapon have to be seen to be believed.

Disco Godfather -- The inimitable Rudy Ray Moore is a retired cop now working as a DJ in the hottest disco in town. When his relative flips out on PCP he goes seeking revenge. One of those films that's so bad it's good.

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Four Dimensions of Greta -- in 3D

The story begins in the West Germany, where Hans Weimer (Tristan Roger, later to appear in producer-director Pete Walker's The Flesh and Blood Show and another softcore sex film, the Spinal Tap-esque titled Sex Farm) is recruited to travel to London to investigate what has happened to au pair Greta (Leena Skoog).

Hans first makes contact with Mrs Marks, with whom Greta was originally living. He learns that Greta was unhappy with the poor treatment she had received at the hands of the Marks family, who regard au pairs as “a type of servant” and whom Greta left after only a week. Hans in turn considers Mrs Marks as a “sow”, a term that gains additional resonance given Hans's nationality and the implication of the Marks/Marx name and Golder's Green residence, in that she is coded as Jewish.

Hans then meets up with Sue, with whom he visits clubs and discotheques, and makes contact with another of Greta's acquiantances, Serena; Walker, making a Hitchcockian cameo as a waiter, gets a pie in the face.

Serena tells Hans that Greta was a nasty piece of work, who exploited her and her friend Kristina, before then leaving them to work at a Soho strip club with Cynthia. (The man enticing men into the club has a patter that likely intentionally references Paul Raymond's approach, of having nude models who move rather than stay static, this prompting a raid from the clearly corrupt police.)

Hans then learns about footballer Roger Maitland (Robin Askwith), who takes a more active role in determining what has happened to Greta...

This confusingly titled entry might be considered the Citizen Kane of the British sexploitation film. That's not referring to its quality, which is no better or worse than most comparable films within the genre and time period, as much as its structure. For it is one that sees the investigator protagonist visit a series of characters who reveal what they know about the missing Greta, A mentioning B, then B mentioning C etc. These flashbacks scenes are presented in black and white, green and red, and in 3D rather than in colour and 2D, with this coding being identified in the opening credits rather than being left for the spectator to figure out. The flashbacks also feature a lot of crude “comin' at ya” shots of things being thrust forward from the screen.

One important area where The Four Dimensions of Greta -- in 3D departs from Welles's film is in placing the diegetic investigator and the viewer on an equal footing. In Welles's film the investigator never learns what Kane's dying utterance, “Rosebud”, refers to. Here, by contrast, we and the investigator simultaneously learn what has happened to Greta.

Another area where the film's classical aspect is evident is how these flashbacks are discreet and largely non-contradictory. This contrasts with another key film exploring the flashback and its relation to truth, Rashomon. Akira Kurosawa's film presents the same incident from a variety of self-interested and subjective perspectives, none of which -- including the observer who was not a participant -- can be trusted to convey the truth.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Hot Girls / For Men Only

Freddie (David Kernan) is a fashion photographer for Vogue. His fiancée Rosalie (Andrea Allen) is worried that the models will prove a temptation to him, and is pleased when Freddie is hired, sight-unseen, by Fanthorpe (Derek Aylward), the owner of some 30 or so publications with a big and small C conservative orientation.

Note the credit for "The Birds"

What nobody else knows is that Fanthorpe is also the proprietor of a cheesecake publication, For Men Only, and has hired Freddie because he thinks Freddie will prove to have a knack for glamour photography and be able to recruit some “birds” through his Vogue contacts.

Sexy secretary: "Sugar?" 
Freddie: "Two large ones please"

A further complication is provided by a rival publisher, who hopes to steal away the best of Fanthorpe’s talent and use them as the basis for his own magazine.

Running under an hour – and listed on the IMDB as being a mere 43 minutes long, rather than the 58 or so of this washed-out, scratchy Something Weird release – this early Pete Walker piece, on which he served as producer, director and writer, plays out much like a classic farce with added tits & arse.

The most interesting aspect of the film, if the viewer has seen Walker’s later horror films, particularly those written or co-written with David McGillivray, is how it prefigures aspects of them. The glamour/softcore porn industry also appeared in House of Whipcord, the attack on religious hypocrisy House of Mortal Sin.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

No Blade of Grass

The film opens with a voice-off indicating that by the early 1970s conditions were ripe for an environmental catastrophe, accompanied by a montage of stock images of pollution, over-population, rampant consumerism and starvation, culminating in the explosion of an atomic bomb.

Similar images will appear throughout, sometimes interpolated in with no direct relation to the narrative. There are also frequent flash-forwards, tinted in red, and flashbacks, with the narrative sometimes chopping back and forward between past and present without clearly indicating so.

The catastrophe, as indicated by the title, stems from a plant disease that attacks grasses – i.e. the key crops for men and livestock alike. First appearing in East Asia, the disease is reported to have spread to Africa and South America, with the current death toll estimated at hundreds of millions in these areas. Social order in India has broken down and starving refugees from China have flooded into Hong Kong.

Not that any of this, as reported on the television playing in an up-market restaurant or club, appears to have had much effect on most of its patrons, a cross section of gluttonous bourgeois grotesques who seem to have wandered in from an Eisenstein or Buñuel film.

Three of those present have a different understanding. One, Roger Burnham (John Hamill), is government scientist party to information that the media dare not reveal. The second, his friend John Custance (Nigel Davenport), is an architect and ex-military man. The third, John’s brother David (Patrick Holt), owns a farm in the Lake District.

David advises John that he and his family should leave London as soon as possible and head for his farm. David says Roger can come along as well, in case they need someone for the pot – a joke whose reality is then indicated by news reports of cannibalism in some parts of the world.

With cities of over 300,000 people about to be sealed off and martial law imposed, along with rumours that there is only a week’s supply of food remaining, John and Roger decide to get out of London.

There’s a nice sequence of match edits around this point, as filmmaker Cornel Wilde cuts from John and Roger’s shocked “Jesus!” and “Christ!” to the image of John’s son Davey at his public school, a choir singing “Was born for thee...” on the soundtrack. Davey then coughs, his cough being taken up by a man on TV who is interviewing government ecologist Sir Charles Brenner (Burnham’s boss) about recent developments.

It seems the Chinese government has nerve gassed 300 million of its own people. Brenner accepts this action as rational in the circumstances, being “necessary for survival”. He then predictably evades the question of whether similar measures would be countenanced for the UK.

The group barely manage to get out of London after getting caught up in a confrontation between a hungry mob and the police – a scene whose images of the former using petrol bombs and the latter teargas and rifles perhaps had a special resonance for British audiences of the time in relation to the Northern Ireland “Troubles”.

The refugees go to pick up Davey and agree to take his friend ‘Spooks’ with them. Their next task is to get some guns and ammunition from a gunshop owner Custance knows, Mr Sturdevant. Sturdevant trusts the authorities and refuses to hand over the weapons, even when Custance explains how things are only going to get worse. Custance and Burnham move to take the guns, only to find themselves covered by Sturdevant’s assistant, Pirrie. Pirrie proves more amenable to Custen’s arguments, shoots his erstwhile employer and throws in his lot with the refugees.

Their next encounter is a roadblock manned by soldiers, whom they find themselves forced to kill:

Ann Custance: “There was no other way, was there darling?”
John: “No”

Clara Pirrie: “Why did you do all the shooting?”
Pirrie: “I had to”

The violence and disorder continue to escalate as the group continue on their way towards David’s farm, with encounters including a marauding biker gang, who rape the Custance’ 16 year old daughter Mary (Lynne Frederick); a rural posse who take their food, vehicles and weapons; a Farmer Palmer type who refuses them food, with predictable consequences; another group of refugees with a pig-headed self-appointed leader, and soldiers who mutiny against their commanding officer. Then, by the time the farm has been reached brother is pitted against brother...

Though released after George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead this survivalist horror can also be seen as a follow-up to director-producer-co-screenwriter Wilde’s own The Naked Prey. In that film a group of white hunters in Africa anger the native population – this, of course, a staple theme of the cannibal film – and are killed with the exception of one of their number, who is then allowed to fight for his life in a Most Dangerous Game type man-hunt.

For the main theme of the film, that of the narrow boundary between modern/civilised and primitive/savage man is one that recurs here and which can also be seen in a number of films of the time, including Straw Dogs, Deliverance, Deep River Savages, Last Cannibal World, and The Hills Have Eyes.

A significant difference between No Blade of Grass is the way it approaches the issue of the other. For in No Blade of Grass there is not an identifiable 'other' against which 'we', via our on-screen representatives, are positioned. Rather, there is the rapid emergence of a state of war of all against all, as per Hobbes or Bataille, where the enemy is (or was) us:

Ann: What kind of people are you?
Leader of posse who rob them: Same kind of people you are, ma’am.

As such, the main reason we identify with the protagonists is more that it is their story we are following rather than their being particularly morally superior to their antagonists, the exceptions being the rapist bikers and the establishment elites.

This scene is also notable for seeing Ann, who had previously questioned the necessity for violence, taking Pirrie’s rifle and cold-bloodedly shooting a wounded biker as he pleads for mercy.

One perceptive IMDB commentator has suggested that there are some intriguing parallels between No Blade of Grass’s main quest narrative, of the search for the promised land, and the Old Testament story of Exodus, with John and Pirrie the Moses and Joshua figures respectively.

While sometimes clunky in its execution, No Blade of Grass remains worth a look for its chilling and plausible portrayal of apocalypse. For ordinary people like us, driven to extremes, are ultimately more terrifying than flesh-eating animated corpses or humans effectively zombified by an implausible rage virus...

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Snow Devils / La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin

Earth, some time in the future. A weather monitoring station notes an impossible spike in temperature and is then attacked by an unseen force. All the staff are killed bar one, whose fate is unknown. The authorities at the UDSCO (United Democracies Space Command) send an expedition into the Himalayas, where they believe the source of the trouble is located – a suspicion enhanced by the sabotaging of the mission’s aircraft. This forces the team to proceed on foot, accompanied by a native guide and bearers. The bearers soon flee, but the team continue on. They discover a secret base, filled with advanced technology. The base is inhabited by a number of large green hairy creatures, which they initially take to be Yeti. The creatures’ leader then reveals, however, that they are actually from another planet, Aytin. As Aytin was about to become uninhabitable, they decided to take over the Earth. It is similar to their homeworld, but for its higher temperature. Accordingly the aliens have decided to melt the Polar ice caps, flooding large areas of the Earth, then freeze the oceans. The alien leader also stupidly – if predictably – reveals that their main power source is located elsewhere...

Directed by Antonio Margheriti, who has a producer credit as Anthony Marghertiti and a directorial credit as Anthony Dawson, this is one of those entertaining 1960s science-fiction films whose contemporary watch-ability arguably derives as much from the vision of the future it presents as anything else: Silver jumpsuits; pistols that seem more like blow torches when fired; domed, finned concept cars; computers whose main method of output is a printout onto continuous paper, and so on.

An obvious point of comparison, besides the director's other science-fiction entries of the period, is Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. Bava and Margheriti were, after all, both filmmakers working in the popular filone cinema, under comparatively low budgets and with a knack for achieving effects and results that belied these impecunious circumstances.

It is, however, possible to identify authorial differences between the films. Planet of the Vampires is more reliant upon non-naturalistic lighting to create its alien landscape out of a studio space. The Snow Devils makes more use of location shooting – presumably with the Alps or Dolomites standing in for the Himalayas – and of actual sets. Bava makes more use of mattes, Margheriti of miniatures, which generally work, and stock footage, which is generally less satisfactory.

Moreover, while both films see their protagonists or identification figures facing off against hostile aliens, Margheriti’s is the more straightforward due to giving these aliens a visible and inhuman form, such that the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is obvious. His film’s resolution is also predictable and lacks the delicious ironies of Bava’s.

The Snow Devils benefits from a good Eurotrash cast, headed by Jack Stuart/Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and also including the likes of John Bartha and Franco Ressel in minor roles, plus a jaunty Angelo Francesco Lavagnino score.

No, it’s not 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it does feature a thought-provoking take on the climactic Star Wars type battle. For those monitoring the UDSCO strike force sent against the aliens’ base near one of Jupiter’s moons are receiving information from the strike force at a five minute delay. They can do nothing to advise or assist their colleagues nor affect the outcome of something that has already happened. Equally, however, the filmmakers do not subvert things further, as by only showing what happens (or more precisely has happened) from the Earth team’s perspective on their monitors, instead cross-cutting between the two crucially different points in time-space.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Fiend / Beware My Brethen poster

Going to be showing this at the Edinburgh Film Guild on Friday...

It is an intriguing film - a slasher where the identity of the killer is known, and where his murders are motivated by his religious upbringing.

Italian Hitchcock obsession

Another Italian locandina sort of referencing Hitchcock:

Death Shock

After their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere – this seeming to entail a confusion between the urban Norwich and rural Norfolk – six horny young men and women, two heterosexual couples and one lesbian, flag down an old-fashioned car driven by a man wearing a dog collar.

The youngsters ask for a lift to the nearest petrol station, but the man tells them it is 12 miles away – too far out of his way. Fortunately there is a manor house, the Grange, about a mile away and the man/vicar agrees to drive them to it.

The owner of the Grange seems surprisingly welcoming and prepared (perhaps in the manner of Dracula’s servant Klove in Dracula Prince of Darkness, if we can accept promotional descriptions of the film as spoofing Hammer) and the group are encouraged to have a meal and stay the night. Said meal later turns out to have been laced with substantial quantities of aphrodisiac.

This affects the two heterosexual couples most strongly, insofar as one of the two lesbians professes to be ‘not in the mood’ when her partner goes to use a dildo on her – albeit with said partner then going to join one of the heterosexual couples for a threesome (“come and join us”).

Eventually it is revealed that the apparent vicar and the denizens of the Grange are Satanists and that the younger lesbian, the one not in the mood, is “a virgin of 16 summers” and thus the perfect material for an unholy rite; never mind that she looks, and indeed undoubtedly was, for legal reasons, older.

Death Shock is an example of the lowest common denominator of the British sex film in the late 1970s and early 1980s, others being Mary Millington’s Striptease Extravaganza and Queen of the Blues.

Anyone want to do an auteurist analysis of these guys? In time it will probably happen...

Running barely three quarters of an hour the majority of Death Shock’s running time is filled with unconvincing sex scenes, the kind where the filmmakers had to be careful about avoiding anything that could fall foul of the censors -- penetration, ejaculation, erect penises, spread vaginas etc.

Even at this length the film is padded out.

First there is an opening scene in which a young woman hears chanting, gets off her bike to investigate, discovers some cultists, and is then pursued (conveniently catching her skirt on a raised nail), caught and sacrificed.

Then, as the main characters drive on, there is a minute or two of long shots of their car while the inane dialogue is done in voice-off.

The writing is such that the name of the younger lesbian is not mentioned until the final scene – “where’s [Susan|Sarah]?” “He I am!” – hence my inability to remember the character’s name.

Of those involved three have names of note, at least within their specific generic area, namely Lindsay Honey/Steve Perry, Linzi Drew, and Bill Wright. Honey, better known as Ben Dover, and Wright, better known as Frank Thring, independently appeared in and directed hundreds of porn films during the 1990s and early 2000s. Drew’s fame was more immediate in terms of being a regular in certain “men’s magazines” (read softcore porn) of the time. She was/is Honey’s partner.

The direction is perfunctory, albeit with at least one moment of vague visual imagination when a mirrored shot pulls back to reveal the actual image.

Thankfully this never happened, unlike the Fantom Killer series

The most intriguing aspect of the film, for me, was how it again highlighted a major distinction between UK softcore and US/Continental European hardcore of the time: In the UK film was the ability of the male performers to not get an unwanted erection valued in a comparable way to the ability of those elsewhere to achieve a wanted one?

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Nude Princess / La principessa nuda

Ajita Wilson, who plays the title character, was an African-American transgender male to female who found work in a number of European sexploitation films in the 1970s and 1980s -- including roles with Carlos Aured and Jess Franco -- before dying as a result of a road accident in 1987. While some of her roles, such as in Eva Man alongside the intersexed Eva Robins, played upon this aspect of her biography others, including this one, do not. (Robins may be most familiar to from his role as the woman in the red shoes in Tenebrae's flashback scenes.)

The Nude Princess is Miriam Zamota, a US-born former model with a law degree, who has since married Kaboto, the ruler of the African country of Taslamia. She is sent by her husband as the head of a trade delegation to Milan, Italy, with the job of negotiating Italian industrialists' construction of various public works and infrastructural projects in Taslamia.

One of the Italian trade delegates meets Miriam

The first complication is that the Italians do not intend to play fair: Rather than submitting separate tenders, they agree to collude and divide up the commissions between them. The second is the presence of an industrial spy Gladys, played by Tina Aumont. The third is the desire of scandal sheet journalist Marco, played by Luigi Pistilli, to catch Zamota in a compromising position. The fourth is the presence of protesters against Kaboto's regime, along with dissidents and refugees from it.

Some of these complications prove more easily resolved than others -- the Italian businessmen and the industrial spy are smitten by Zamota's beauty. Others prove more complicated, notably Zamota's relations with her countryfolk. For when Zamota is taken to a 'primitive'/'native' religious ceremony/drug party/orgy she has a flashback to a traumatic incident, revealing a previously unknown (or repressed) facet to her relationship with Kaboto. Here, in the Germaine Greer influenced feminist discourse then current she remarks “I’m a female eunuch”

One of the ceremony/party/orgy participants

Writer/director Cesare Canevari has a filmography that can best be described as unusual. Over the course of 20 years he directed nine features, five of which I have now seen: A Hyena in a Strongbox; Matalo!; I, Emmanuelle; this, and The Gestapo's Last Orgy. The main characteristics of these are that they fit into identifiable genres or filone -- Hyena is a crime thriller with Gothic overtones -- but don't always quite play as you would expect -- Matalo! is a Western, but one that seems to dispense with the main antagonist too early on, then presents some Antonioni-esque “dead time” in a deserted town, not to mention a boomerang throwing protagonist.

The one with most in common with The Nude Princess is probably the following year's Nazisadism entry. Both are unsurprisingly exploitative and sleazy, with extensive nudity and softcore sex, yet also have a degree of socio-political comment and artistry to them.

The main theme is the legacies of colonialism, both for the European and the African. Kaboto professes that the only white man he respects is Adolf Hitler, while his dictatorship is presented as a positive, Westernising force in the promotional film shown.

Mocking the neo-colonialist?

The main method, as expressed by this film within the film and Pistilli's occupation, is to constantly make us aware of the mediated nature of the images presented. For elsewhere the image is rarely stable, with Canevari liking to zoom in and out, move the camera independently of the characters, and rapidly cross-cutting between seemingly unconnected scenes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's tiresome. A nice touch is when he presents us with a line of four character's faces, racking focus to bring three of them into sharp relief, one after the other.

In sum, one of those films that's not quite art, but not quite trash either. Or, to put it another way, the kind of film I tend to like...

Friday, 28 September 2012

Emanuelle in the Country / L'infermiera di campagna

Despite its alternate title this 1978 film has no real connection to the Emanuelle series other than the welcome presence of Laura Gemser and the inevitable nude and softcore scenes featuring her, along with the equally inevitable co-starring role given her real-life husband, Gabriele Tinti.

Gemser's character is Dottoressa Selenia Anselmi, who has recently been appointed as doctor in a small coastal town, Bolsena. Her arrival proves predictably disruptive as nearly every male in the place immediately falls for her, including Marco Rossi, the son of Communist candidate for mayor (Rossi being a common Italian surname, and also meaning red for an obvious political reference), who already in love with the daughter of the incumbent Christian Democrat mayor. Cue Romeo and Juliet(s) as a sex comedy all'italiana...

Gemser's role is much like that played by Edwige Fenech in the Schoolteacher and Nurse films made around the same time. However, whereas Fenech in these films displayed a talent for comedy, Gemser here is her usual blank, if beautiful, self. The notable difference between the two stars approaches is perhaps that whereas the Fenech comedy situation would see her undress for a shower scene, notice those watching her and then react, the comedy in its Gemser equivalent likely focuses on her observers, as she will likely neither notice them nor react.

Does the position of the window and the shot from within the bathroom correspond to the voyeur's POV? I suppose the target audience of the time would neither notice nor care.

The more damaging aspects of the film, however, are the general poverty of the production -- flat direction, clumsy editing and use of library music -- and several scenes of unattractive men and women groping and fumbling. Do you really want to see Aldo Sambrell getting it on, for instance?

A commentary on Italian politics of the time? -- the Communists and the Christian Democrats in a stand off

Perhaps the most telling presence here, however, is Mark Shannon/Manlio Certosino, later to appear alongside Gemser in Joe D'Amato's Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Porno Holocaust. For director Alan W. Cool, a pseudonym for Mario Bianchi, would go on to establish himself as one of D'Amato's main rivals in the Italian hardcore porn cinema/video of the 1980s and 1990s.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Nice poster homage

One of my local cinemas is playing Berberian Sound Studio, which has this poster:

It looks like a nice nod to the Italian Four Flies on Grey Velvet poster, doesn't it?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Sweeney 2

The commercial success of Sweeney! the film ensured a sequel would soon follow. Though entitled Sweeney 2, the story here does not follow on from its predecessor and generally plays like an extended episode of the TV series, with a straightforward cops and robbers plot rather than a high-level conspiracy

The film starts in media res with George Carter (Dennis Waterman) in charge of an operation against a gang of blaggers, whilst his superior Jack Regan (John Thaw) has been called upon as a defence witness for his old boss, Jupp (Denholm Elliot), who is facing corruption charges.

As with Sweeney! Regan and Carter's usual boss, Haskins, is absent. His absence is less noticeable. For one thing his substitute Dilke (Nigel Hawthorne) occupies a similar role. For another the back-story between Regan and Jupp is both shown in flashbacks and proves relevant to the current case -- one that sees a rare failure for the Sweeney, along with the deaths of bystanders, hostages and blaggers alike, one of the latter being killed by his compatriots in a manner reminiscent of The Wild Bunch. (To reinforce the Peckinpah connection one of the robbers is played by Ken Hutchison of Straw Dogs.)

Notably we don't see all this, only the aftermath and Regan's encounter with the father of the hostage and learning that his regular driver, Big John, has had to have a foot amputated. This both gives Regan an additional personal stake in the case and results in the young, likely university educated, vegetarian Robert being assigned him, leading to some amusing culture clash interplay.

Regan and Carter's pursuit of the blaggers is complicated by the fact that they live in Malta, outside the Sweeney's jurisdiction. The gang are of comfortable, educated backgrounds and decided to leave the UK with their families because of their belief the country was finished.

Some nice rack focus and point of view

While these aspects of the writing work well and give the film a socio-political edge, the gang's modus operandi of always taking the same amount of money -- and thus leaving anything in excess of it -- and use of a sawn-off, gold-plated Purdey shotgun, seem gimmicky. (Just how do they take the gun in and out of the UK?)

A sense of padding out the running time is evident in a stand-alone sequence that sees Regan and Carter being called to a hotel where a bomb has been found. While perhaps reflecting the reality of being interrupted by unpredictable events, and topical, it felt too long to be throwaway but insufficiently developed to constitute a sub-plot to me. One thing this sequence does do, however, is present Patrick Malahide as one of the police involved with the case. Malahide was, after all, soon to become a regular alongside Waterman in Euston's next major series, Minder.

In sum, of interest if you like the TV series or 1970s gritty crime films.

A nice extended discussion of the film is here:

Sunday, 23 September 2012


This was the first of two film spin offs from the popular Thames Television series and marked Euston Films first actual venture into the big screen. All the regular cast are present with the exception of DI Jack Regan (John Thaw) and DS George Carter’s (Dennis Waterman’s) superior officer, Frank Haskins (Garfield Morgan). This is because the plot sees Regan being isolated from and then suspended from the titular Sweeney -- Cockney rhyming slang for Flying Squad -- including for a time Carter. As such, Regan’s boss has to be someone the audience has no prior knowledge of or empathy with. While Regan and Haskins were often at odds over methods, both men knew that they could rely on one another when it mattered.

Another difference from the TV series is that the usual Sweeney versus Blaggers (i.e. armed robbers) narrative is dealt with in the second sequence of the film, the first having shown the murder of a prostitute, Janice Wyatt, as a means to compromise and pressurise the alcoholic Government Oil Minister Baker (Ian Bannen), with whom she had been in a relationship.

The mastermind behind the scheme (which has affinities with the way Michael Corleone deals with Senator Geary in The Godfather Part II) is McQueen (Barry Foster, at the time the star of another Thames/Euston series, Van Der Valk), a US lobbyist. Regan then gets brought in because the now legit gangster who had given him a tip off about the blaggers, Ronnie Brent, had also been in a relationship with Janice, and doubts she committed suicide.

Initially Regan is sceptical, but when Ronnie and his men are machine-gunned by two of McQueen’s men posing as police officers, he realises that Ronnie was right. After a few drinks Regan is then stopped by these same ‘policemen’ for driving under the influence. He tries to get them to let him off by playing on his force connection, but is instead arrested, force-fed a bottle of whiskey and then sent off in his car. He crashes and, having been caught driving whilst inebriated, is suspended from duty and finds himself under investigation and target as he continues to dig into the Profumo Affair-like conspiracy.

What makes the conspiracy especially interesting is that McQueen had previously been employed by the British and has now found a backer, likely an US rather than a Soviet one, willing to pay more, thus indicating that duplicity and dirty tricks are to be found amongst allies with an alleged Special Relationship and, indeed, between different agencies within the individual state, as when Regan is encouraged to drop the case by a civil servant type.

It’s a cynical attitude that is as one with the hard-bitten sensibilities of the TV show and, arguably, mid-late 1970s Britain as a whole. In this light the film’s treatment of party politics is also significant. For Baker is also being encouraged by his unseen, unnamed PM to manipulate the oil price -- a topical issue in the light of OPEC and North Sea Oil at the time -- to effect a short-term boom, allowing his aging Prime Minister's Government to win a snap election and thereby remain in power for another few years, rather than face life in the shadows of opposition, regardless of what it means for the longer-term benefit of the nation and its population.

There’s a bit more swearing and violence than was permissible or acceptable in the TV series. Sometimes these more ‘adult’ elements are a touch obvious, whether positively -- the Peckinpah-esque gunning down of Ronnie and his men, with its bullet ballets of death and close-up of a submachine gun firing at the spectator in the manner of the closing image of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia -- or negatively -- the commutation of a number of “bastards” to “fucks” or George saying he has to “go take a piss”.

In the end, however this Sweeney (!) film at least has an organic connection to its TV source which the new Sweeney likely lacks.

For I recently watched 2012 Sweeney director Nick Love’s remake of Alan Clarke’s football casual production The Firm, finding it to be a severe case of style over substance, in both the late 1980s period fashions and Love’s directorial approach, and in the absence of the subtext and insight Clarke brought to the material.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A Complex of Carnage: Dario Argento Beneath the Surface

This is one of a number of recently released books from Glitter Books in their Cult Movie Files series, edited and introduced by Jack Hunter. It contains essays previously published by Creation Press, particularly in Andy Black's Necronomicon series of the mid-late 1990s, collected by their subject, psychoanalytic interpretations of Dario Argento's films.

There are four essays: Xavier Mendik's 'Detection and Transgression', and 'Monstrous Mother', Ray Guins' 'Tortured Looks', and Julian Hoxter's 'Anna with a Devil Inside'.

The first of Mendik's essays uses Freud, Lacan and Zizek to argue for the deviant characteristics of detection in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Tenebrae, in line with the former film's female aggressor and the latter's murderous protagonist.

Guins' essay examines Deep Red and Opera by way of Mulvey's seminal essays, but with an interesting twist by focusing on visual displeasure rather than pleasure.

Mendik's second essay examines figures of abjection and/or the monstrous feminine in Italian cinema via Kristeva's essay on the former and Creed's application of it to horror cinema in terms of the latter.

Finally, Hoxter's essay uses Klein's object relations theory to examine figures of the good and bad mother in The Stendhal Syndrome.

The key strength of the volume lies in the consistency of approach, insofar as all three authors draw from the same broad theoretical corpus. Indirectly it also provides a useful guide for further reading around such work.

Contrariwise, the obvious weakness of psychoanalytic film theory as a whole is its unverifiable (or, to use Popper's term, “falsifiable”) nature: you either believe in it or, as with cognitivists such as Bordwell and Carroll do not.

When applied to Argento's films, meanwhile, the notion of a gendered gaze is problematised by the frequent inability to identify the source of the gaze. The famous Louma crane shot in Tenebrae is, after all, not identified with a human. Likewise the New York apartment block in Inferno is identified as female and male simultaneously, being both the repository of the “filthy secrets” of Mater Tenebrarum and the “body” of its architect, Varelli.

In sum, worth picking up if you don't already have the original Necronomicon volumes in which the essays appeared.

Giallo Score Project

Giallo score project -- not giallo soundtracks but a way of quantifying how far the films match up to an ideal-typical giallo:

On the Game

This 1974 entry from producer-director Stanley Long examines the theme of prostitution through the ages via a series of vignettes that take us from prehistoric times through to the present day or even the future, giving several interesting facts (or possibly factiods) along the way.

We begin with a low-budget pastiche of the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey as a male ape barters the sexual services of a female in exchange for some eggs that he has gathered. It may be a black monolith moment in the history that Long is recounting, but there is no triumphant music nor a match cut bridging countless millenia.

Following this the narrative turns to ancient times, identifying Biblical taboos on prostitution along with the different approaches found in Babylonia, Greece and Rome.

In Babylonia, we are told, women were required to serve as religious prostitutes until they had lost their virginity, the sting in the tale being provided by a man approaching a woman only to then find out that she is a severe butterface --- i.e. everything else is fine, but her face isn’t.

In Greece brothels served as places of sanctuary, the problem being that having entered it was frequently impossible to leave.

In Rome prostitutes were licensed by the state, but having assumed the role were then forbidden to marry. Apparently they also had to wear blue or yellow wigs.

One exception to the first point was the Empress Messalina, whose exploits servicing the needs of several legionnaires are depicted via two ever increasing piles of breastplates and coins.

Following this there is the a jump in time to the Victorian era, where a masked husband and wife are predictably shocked when they unmask one another.

So far, very much a fun romp through the ages, Charles Grey’s voice-over getting the right mondo-style balance between serious and supercilious, while also helping paper over the usual weaknesses in the acting department when many performers are cast for their looks and willingness to disrobe and engage in softcore shenanigans. (Grey would, of course, undertake a similar narrator role the following year for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.)

It isn’t all fun and games, however, with a sequence in which a woman accused of being a prostitute is treated to the ducking stool treatment by an angry mob that results in her demise – images that perhaps intentionally recall Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General, Long having served as cameraman on Michael Reeves’ previous film, The Sorcerors.

Another, more jarring tonal shift occurs between vignettes of a German army field brothel in the First World War and of Second World War era British conscripts being shown a film about VD that includes several stills of diseased male and female genitalia that clearly came straight out of an actual sex hygiene film or a medical textbook.

Trivia fans may also care to note that the De Wolfe library cue that plays over the opening cartoon credits later appeared as that supposedly being played by the musicians in Mary Millington’s World Striptease Extravaganza.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Stanley Long RIP

British exploitation filmmaker Stanley Long has sadly died. His memoirs, published a few years ago, are well worth a read.

Monday, 10 September 2012

European Nightmares

Following a short general introduction European Nightmares divides into seven sections, each prefaced by a separate introduction/overview from the volume's editors.

The first section deals with the Reception and Perception of European horror cinema, the other six with national or regional horror cinemas, the British, French, Spanish, Italian, Germany/Northern Europe, and Turkey/Eastern Europe.

The first section begins with Peter Hutching’s chapter, in which he emphasises the difficulty of defining Eurohorror as a distinct genre. Hutchings first compares Resident Evil and Suspiria, noting that while both films have US and European elements the former is rarely considered Eurohorror whereas the latter is perhaps the quintessential Eurohorror film.

Hutchings then takes a more historical focus, noting how the 1960s and 1970s typically saw English-language critics refer to continental horror films as Italian horror, Spanish horror, or other nationally specific instances of horror. Eurohorror, as an overarching descriptive label, dated from the 1980s and 1990s.

In the UK this was indirectly encouraged by the Video Nasties moral panic, in that Italian and Spanish films were disproportionately represented in the lists of banned titles, and then by the efforts of fan-critics such as Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs to identify common traits. (One productive line of inquiry here may be to see if a random sample of European horror films have what David Bordwell terms a “group style” or if a Eurohorror group style, as implied by Tohill and Tombs' invocation of the fantastique, might be discerned.)

Brigid Cherry’s chapter follows neatly on from Hutchings by again emphasising the importance of Suspiria whilst shifting the focus of attention somewhat from critic to fan discourses (though as indicated in the earlier chapter, these boundaries are permeable). Using material drawn from internet discussion forums, she suggests that a distinction may also be drawn between Eurohorror and Eurogore, with audience preferences for one, other, or both tending to correlate with gender and level of subcultural capital, female viewers preferring horror over gore and older or longer term viewers possessing greater subcultural capital. Unfortunately subsequent chapters will not address this distinction.

Ernst Mathjis and Russ Hunter’s chapter looks at the particular place of horror within Belgian cinema culture, or rather its peculiar absence. For while internationally successful as horror films, The Devil’s Nightmare, Daughters of Darkness, Man Bites Dog and The Ordeal were invariably discussed by Belgian critics in other terms and treated negatively.

The final chapter in this section, by David Huxley, looks at the reception of domestic and continental horror productions in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s from both the censors and critics. He indicates that a range of views were evident from the outset and that generally they became better regarded in the more liberal context of the 1960s.

Huxley’s chapter leads smoothly onto the section on British horror cinema, which has two chapters looking at Village of the Damned and at a number of genre films, including Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later produced during the period of New Labour government (1997-2010).

Both chapters, authored by John Sears and Linnie Blake respectively, make broadly socio-political readings of the films as symptomatic of wider issues such as class and gender.

While the editors’ introduction to the section on French horror cinema mentions Jean Rollin and the lack of recognition and discussion accorded his work in his native land, he is also ironically absent from this collection, with the chapters by Emily Brick and Matthias Hurst instead concentrating upon more recent films, namely Baise-moi and Switchblade Romance.

Brick situates the former film in the context of the rape-revenge subgenre, Hurst the latter in relation to questions of gender, identity and subjectivity. (It is difficult to write about Switchblade Romance without spoiling its twist ending, though a comparison with The Grip of the Strangler, Tenebrae and/or The Stendhal Syndrome might prove constructive.)

By this point the strengths and weaknesses of the collection are becoming evident. On the one hand there is no dogmatic attachment to any particular theory. On the other hand this makes the study a bit less cohesive. This is also apparent in the three chapters on Spanish horror cinema.

In the first Paul Willis notes that most studies of Spanish horror films of the 1960s and 1970s have tended to foreground their anti-Francoist characteristics. Such studies, however, neglect the strain of Spanish horror that is more reactionary than progressive. One example of this is the Paul Naschy vehicle Exorcismo, which Willis sees as presenting a negative portrayal of youth culture and a positive one of the Catholic religion that was a bedrock of the regime.

In the second Phil Smith looks at the Blind Dead and the zombie more generally (including those of Romero and Fulci) in relation to the Situationist notion of aimless wandering. While certainly an interesting idea, this is one of those pieces where you suspect the author came to the films via the theory rather than to a theory via the films.

In the third Barry Jordan looks at the contemporary Spanish horror films of Alejando Amenabar, particularly his early shorts. Their place within a distinctive national tradition is, however, somewhat unclear. Amenabar indicates his influences to be Hollywood filmmakers, while Jordan says that he makes his films as if Spanish horror cinema had not existed. As such, it might be questioned whether Amenabar is really a Eurohorror filmmaker in the De Ossorio or Fulci manner.

The section on Italian horror has two chapters. The first, by Mark Goodall, looks at Bruno Mattei’s Zombie Creeping Flesh/Hell of the Living Dead and highlights the often under-acknowledged influence of the earlier mondo cycle on Italian horror. The second, by Anna Powell, looks at Suspiria from a Deleuzean perspective, challenging psychoanalytic interpretations of Argento’s work.

If there’s a problem with both discussions it is in not offering much that is new. Goodall, after all, is the author of a book on the mondo film, while Powell had earlier written about Suspiria in Deleuze and Horror film.

While the introduction to the section on German and North European horror films mentions the krimi as a horror/thriller genre the three subsequent chapters focus on the Hollywood career of Robert Siodmak, Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg, and Michael Haneke's films, with varying degrees of success.

It is hard to see the relevance of Mark Jancovich's chapter on Siodmak's Hollywood career in the 1930s and 1940s, given the claimed post-War European focus of the collection. Worse, Jancovich could have discussed Siodmak's 1957 West German horror-thriller Nights When the Devil Comes, based on the real story of a serial killer at large in Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Samuel Umland's discussion of the relationship between The Serpent's Egg and Fritz Lang's Mabuse films, especially The Testament of Dr Mabuse, is more interesting and thought-provoking, as when he draws out the meanings attached to particular character names in Bergman's film and oeuvre.

Catherine Wheatley's chapter on Michael Haneke's horrors of everyday life emphasises the arthouse at the expense of the grindhouse. It also spends some of its time discussing the French-set (and titled) Cache when, for my money at least, an analysis of Gerard Kargl's Angst would have been more nation-specific.

The concluding section on Eastern Europe contains one general overview chapter, by Christina Stojanova, and two focusing on Hungarian and Turkish horror cinemas specifically, by Patricia Allmer and Kaya Özkaracular.

The overview chapter by introduces John Carpenter's distinction between a left-wing Frankensteinian horror, in which the threat comes from within, and a right-wing Draculean horror, in which the threat comes from outwith. It's an interesting thesis and perhaps one which could have been applied more widely in relation to earlier chapters, most notably that on Spanish horror, given that films were frequently set outside Spain.

That the book concludes with Turkish horror makes sense given the country's position at the margin of Europe and dominant religious tradition being Islam rather than Christianity. Both factors are to the fore in the films discussed, notably the self-explanatory Dracula in Istanbul and The Exorcist rip-off Seytan.

All in all, another useful collection, but also one which points to the need for volumes devoted to particular national horror cinemas beyond the British and the Italian.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

We're back

Well, I had my viva yesterday and passed it. While I have the inevitable corrections and amendments to make to the PhD thesis, I should have a bit more time to be able to post more regularly here once more.

So if anyone is interested in a reading of Leone and Argento's films as examples of a Deleuzean hybridity of movement-images and time-images let me know ;-)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Giallo in the broader sense

Two Italian posters for Agatha Christie adaptations, both making prominent use of yellow and a red circle (or a rote kreis, to mention the title of a krimi).

I could well imagine the centre section of each poster being a paperback cover.

Unusual poster

Robert Hampton as an actor, and not an alias for director Riccardo Freda?

Face mirrored on blade more like Four Flies on Grey Velvet?

Saw on Ebay as a poster for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

Carlo Rambaldi RIP

Carlo Rambaldi, the special effects expert who is most famous for creating ET, but who also worked with Argento in Deep Red and Fulci in A Lizard in a Woman's Skin amongst others has died.

My favourite example of his work comes from the Fulci film, in the form of the Francis Bacon-style vivisected dogs. Rambaldi and Fulci reputedly had to produce the effect in court to show that they had not used real animals.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Alice Sweet Alice

Can anyone out there advise on which is the best version of Alice Sweet Alice AKA Communion on DVD? I am not bothered about extras, such as trailers or a  commentary.


Sunday, 22 July 2012


Not a good time to be a Hammer fan, with Angharad Rees of Hands of the Ripper and Simon Ward of Frankenstein Must be Destroyed both dying in the same week. Next issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors looks likely to be a sad one...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Afyon oppio / The Sicilian Connection

Though obviously inspired by The French Connection and The Godfather this 1972 crime film also strongly recalls Machine Gun McCain. The reason for this is the presence of one of McCain star John Cassavetes frequent collaborators, Ben Gazzara.

The film opens with a Sicilian funeral. A local policeman interrupts the proceedings, requesting to see the paperwork for the deceased, whose body has been brought home from Turkey. He then asks for the coffin to be opened, and discovers that the corpse’s stomach has been cut open and packed with drugs. This leads to the policeman suffering the horridying fate of being buried alive alongside the corpse by the mobsters. (One thing that isn’t explained is what happens to the drugs, since we don’t see them being removed before the burial.)

It’s a powerful scene and one which subsequent ones generally do not match up to. An exception is some fascinating documentary-style footage of heroin production in rural Turkey.

Before we get to this point, however, the filmmakers introduce Gazzara’s character and the narrative in which he is at the centre. Gazzara plays a would-be big shot from New York, Joseph Coppola (note the surname), who has come to Turkey with the intention of masterminding a heroin deal that will take the drugs to Sicily, then Marseilles, then New York.

With each new encounter, however, Joseph, finds himself being forced to take a smaller and smaller cut of the deal. Things get worse as the consignment nears New York, as an old enemy seeks to cut him out entirely.

Gazzara gives a good performance, albeit as a character who is not particularly likeable. While the same could be said of the Corleone family in The Godfather we also have a sense of why they do what they do, along with indications their enemies are worse. Likewise though Popeye Doyle is an unpleasant racist we understand this to be part of a more complex, rounded character.

It is true that the final reversal(s) re-contextualise what has gone before, but they come too little too late and still don’t give us much insight into Joseph’s motivations.
On the plus side the film also features plenty of familiar Eurocrime favourites, including Luciano Rossi, Teodoro Corra, John Bartha and, most notably, Luciano Catenacci as a colleague of Joseph’s. Interestingly Catenacci also has a production role, recalling Kill Baby Kill. In this regard, the film also benefits from good use of its locations.

Ferdinando Baldi's direction is decent, but not particularly memorable.

Not the best, nor the worst Italian crime film I've seen.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Sage Stallone RIP

Saddened to hear of Sage Stallone's passing. He was one of us -- i.e. a fan -- putting out the likes of The Beyond, Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox and Massacre Mafia Style because he believed in them, regardless of their commercial potential.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Serial Killer in an Italian Context

One of the more contentious aspects of Mikel J. Koven's reading of the giallo film is the question of whether the concept of the serial killer is relevant in the Italian context. It was thus interesting to happen across this Dario Argento presentation, originally published in physical form in the mid-1990s:

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Trash or Treasure

Based upon author Kate Egan's PhD thesis, Trash or Treasure presents a three-part, broadly chronological academic examination of the British “video nasty” phenomenon from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, highlighting the shifting and contested meanings attached to the films by various cultural and subcultural groups over this period.

The first chapter examines the discourses employed by the British critical establishment, with Egan emphasising a general tendency to 'other' the assumed audience for horror films as “not like us”. She also notes the particularly anti-American nature of much of this criticism, through an examination of three case studies --- The Funhouse, Visiting Hours (whose Canadian origins are mentioned in passing, but not otherwise explored; an odd omission given that it was shot in Montreal) and The Evil Dead.

The absence of any aesthetic or thematic analysis of the nasties is understandable, inasmuch as there was no coherent criteria by which films were or were not labelled nasties. Less satisfactory is the absence of Italian and Spanish productions or co-productions, given that a disproportionate number of films labelled nasties were from these countries. It is possible, of course, that these films were also less likely to be given cinema releases, but in my opinion it would have been good to mention this and, indeed, the place of continental European popular cinema in established/establishment critical discourse. (A useful case study here might be the cinema release of the Zombie Flesh Eaters/Toolbox Murders double bill, which Stephen Thrower has identified as giving him the feeling that, so to speak, “the times they were a' changin.”)

Another important limitation of Egan's discussion, albeit one that is entirely understandable in the context of academic research, is that her focus throughout remains firmly upon that group of films originally classified as “video nasties” in the early 1980s. She is uninterested in seeing how the term subsequently became a floating signifier that commentators sought to attach to other films, such as Child's Play 3 or Natural Born Killers.

The second chapter highlights contradictory understandings of the early 1980s, whether Kim Newman's golden age/plague years pairing or, more significant on a wider scale, that tension in Conservatism under Thatcher between economic liberalism and social conservatism.

Egan indicates how this relates to the marketing strategies employed by companies such as  Vipco, Go and Replay, in that they operated as ideal(ised) Thatcherite entrepreneurs should, but with a product that was beyond the pale as far as more traditional Conservative elements (Thatcher's “Wets”?) were concerned.

This leads neatly on to the third and final chapter of this section, where Egan looks at the video nasty campaign as it emerged in the media, particularly The Daily Mail. Egan identifies the real or implied Daily Mail reader of the time as someone who was more socially conservative than economically liberal, or thereby not quite the (Althusserian interpellated subject?) Thatcherite ideal, whereby economic liberalism was privileged over social conservatism.

In relation to this perhaps the most significant underacknowledged aspect of the video nasties campaign is that the first politician to raise their concerns was not a Conservative but a Labour MP, Gareth Wardell. This is of particular interest, insofar as it represents an area where Egan criticises Martin Barker's contemporaneous analysis in The Video Nasties (1984), in which Thatcher and the Conservatives tended to be presented as the prime movers in the affair, proactive rather than reactive.

In contrast, Egan argues that the Daily Mail and its alternate vision of [C|c]onservatism were to the fore and that, following the failure of Wardell's campaign, the Conservatives then modified their position to be more like that of the newspaper --- i.e. political conservativism was prioritised over economic liberalism. Put another way it seems to be that the tail, The Daily Mail, wagged the dog, the Conservative party.

Thus endeth the first part...

The fourth chapter explores the particular position occupied by the UK horror magazines/fanzines Fear and, especially, The Dark Side in constructing fan subcultures and discourses around the “nasties” (two other unexplored titles are worth noting here: Samhain and Shock Express).

Egan contends that (1990s) Dark Side constituted its identity in opposition to the (1980s-) US publication Fangoria, which it presented as too mainstream. While Dark Side was more mainstream than fanzines, its subcultural credentials were also established by discussing these publications.

Curiously, given the US/UK element identified in the first section, Egan does not say much about whether the Fangoria/Dark Side distinction (at least from the latter side) has broader associations.

She does, however, provide a compelling analysis of the role(s) played by the magazine's editor and public face, Allan Bryce, as gatekeeper / gamekeeper / groundsman of (a particular) subcultural know-how around the video nasties. This extends to Egan's reading of the magazine's small ads, whereby the reader-initiate was required to learn how to decode their particular shibboleths, whether the names of key directors (D'Amato, Franco, Fulci) or euphemisms (rare pre-certs), or Bryce's sometimes cryptic responses to readers' letters.

The fifth chapter looks at online discourses, as found on websites and discussion forums, with an emphasis upon the (male) nerd/geek type and their (his, my?) struggles over subcultural capital and masculinity. I didn't get much out of this. Whether this was mostly because I reacted against it as a male nerd/geek type; Egan's own lack of personal involvement (there is never any indication of why she chose the nasties as a research topic, nor the kind of existential commitment sensed when reading something written by a “true” fan, that this film/these films really matter); the material appearing dated; the difficulties of examining a nation-specific phenomenon in a post-national internet context; that many academic debates are equally petty territorial pissings (the politics of X are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small, to paraphrase Henry Kissinger); and/or being unsure that her sample was genuinely representative, I don't know.

The issue of representativeness is also evident in the sixth chapter, where Egan provides a detailed analysis of collector “John's” particular approach to the video nasty --- or, more precisely, pre-cert videos with nostalgic associations. What is good about this chapter, besides Egan's provocative comparison of John's video collection with Walter Benjamin's library, is the anthropological “thick description” of John's learning and using specific competences in car boot sales to avoid being taken advantage of and to take advantage of others (the return of the repressed Thatcherite entrepreneur?).

Thus endeth the second part...

A major aspect of John's approach to the nasty is/was his specific interest in the original, authentic, video versions of the films. This leads into the third part of the book, where Egan looks at the re-release and re-evaluation of a number of nasties in the late 1990s and 2000s --- a period marked by the emergence of DVD over video (the VHS/Beta/Video 2000 aspect of collecting and rarity is neither explored nor mentioned, presumably because John had a VHS machine) and a new approach at the BBFC which allowed many previously banned nasties to be certificated, albeit often in cut versions.

The seventh chapter looks at the retrospective marketing of the nasties, with a particular focus upon the Vipco label. Egan identifies Vipco (founded in 1979 and intermittently ongoing to the point where her research ends) as a company who sought to position themselves as the home of the nasties via a cheap and cheerful approach, this in contrast to their more upmarket rivals Redemption.

The eighth and final chapter examines how selected nasties, most notably Last House on the Left, were re-contextualised as art works through their screenings in cultural contexts.

Here, I remember first seeing Craven and Cunningham's film at one of these events, namely Edinburgh International Film Festival screening, where it was introduced by Mark Kermode. Part of the reason for this screening was supposed to be as part of a campaign aimed at getting rid of the VRA. While that didn't happen, one now wonders about it and the BBFC's relevance, except as burdens on UK-based distributors who want to abide by the law: They paid to get inferior (because cut) product certificated while UK consumers bought uncut versions from Ebay, Amazon and so on; if we did buy UK releases, it is because of unique material, perhaps itself engaging with the history of the nasties, as with Egan's discussion of the Anchor Bay's US and UK versions of The Evil Dead, where the latter drew upon the legacy of Palace's distribution and defence of the title in the 1980s.

In sum, a provocative and wide ranging analysis of the “video nasty” and its place in British horror culture. You'll likely find things to disagree about, but that's good...